The incredible biodiversity of California

California is a place of huge variety and incredible adaptation – from Whales and Sea Lions to soaring Condors and giant Redwoods, there truly is something here for everyone. Last year I spent a whirlwind 10 days travelling across California with a group of scientists – here are my favourite wildlife and biodiversity highlights of the trip.

Whale Watching in New Port

  1. Whale Watching in New Port

  2. As soon as you arrive in LA, wildlife is right on your doorstep. As a gentle introduction, on our first jet-lagged day in the US, we took a morning whale watching trip from New Port Pier. It was a 3-hour excursion with an enthusiastic and informative narrative from the boat’s Captain. We saw Dolphins, False Killer Whales and Sea Lions, although unfortunately sea sickness got the better of me and I didn’t enjoy the trip as much as I could have.

  3. Extinct Biodiversity at La Brea Tarpits

  4. Just outside LA is the famous La Brea Tarpits Museum. These naturally occurring tar pits have been here for millions of years, trapping all manor of creatures from mice to Wooly Mammoths. You can see some ‘live’ tar pits in action today, although the real highlight is the museum.

    Hummingbirds in Palm Canyon

    The collection of specimens, mostly from the last Ice Age – the era of Sabretooths, Dire Wolves and Wooly Mammoths – is truly impressive. The dire wolf wall alone represents only a fraction of their collection but is a fascinating display for anyone interested in past lives and evolution.

    The animals might be extinct, but a visit to the La Brea tar pits is truly worth your time.

  5. Hummingbirds in Palm Canyon

  6. Our next location was Palm Springs, an ideal spot nestled between the biodiverse Palm Canyon and the dramatic alpine gradient of Mount San Jacinto. In Palm Canyon you can see the hummingbirds without hardly needing to leave the car park – they are frequent visitors to the nectar dispensers set up around the visitor centre and it’s possible to see several different species including Rufus Hummingbird and Costa’s hummingbird.

    Joshua Tree National Park

  7. Joshua Tree National Park

  8. Joshua Tree NP is a surreal, other-worldly environment, not to be missed on any trip to California. This sparse landscape is smattered with the bizarre Joshua Trees, viscous cacti and strange piles of boulders that resemble giant cairns.

    Desert wildlife here includes plenty of lizards (best seen basking in the early morning), insects and birds (including the infamous Road Runner). Less visible, although important parts of the ecosystem, Joshua tree is also home to Coyotes and Mountain Lions.

    Superbloom in Death Valley

  9. Superbloom in Death Valley

  10. Once every seven or eight years, El Nino brings rains to one of the driest places on Earth, Death Valley. Here, millions of flowering plants are lying dormant as seeds just below the surface of the soil, waiting for this rare event to trigger their germination. We were incredibly lucky to visit Death Valley in 2016 during one of these rare ‘superblooms’. Other biodiversity to be spotted in this hostile environment include the remarkable pup fish, which has adapted to the increasingly hot, saline environment of the few remaining water bodies in Death Valley.

    Elephant Seals at San Simeon

  11. Elephant Seals at San Simeon

  12. If you want to see a dramatic example of sexual selection in action, or just want to witness one of the most extreme and bizarre animals in the wild – San Simeon is the place for you. Here, male and female elephant seals can be seen lying on the beach, and at the right time of year males can be seen engaging in violent battles to secure a hareem of females.

    Big Sur

  13. California Condors at Big Sur

  14. California Condors can be quite difficult to spot, but their small population is slowly rebounding after intensive conservation efforts, so your chances are getting better every year! The amazing California Condor has a windspan of 3m and can weight up to 12kg! Keep your eyes peeled and your binoculars at the ready and you might just spot North America’s largest land bird soaring above the trees at Big Sur.

    Sea Otters in Monterey

  15. Sea Otters in Monterey

  16. Monterey is a fantastic place to visit for wildlife and nature lovers. Monterey bay is spectacular and frequented by a huge range of marine life from sea birds to whales and dolphins. The easiest way to get even closer to the marine life of Monterey is to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is truly one of the most amazing experiences. I’m not always the biggest fan of animals in captivity, but this aquarium is so exquisitely well-designed, giving the animals an enriching and above all else, expansive, environment to live in, and providing a remarkable experience for visitors. I cannot recommend this aquarium enough. Highlights include – a kelp forest exhibit including sea otters, sharks and shoals of fish and an amazing cephalopod exhibition.

    If you want an even closer encounter with some of California’s wildlife, you can take a number of activities from Moss Landing, just north of Monterey. Here activities on offer include sea kayaking with otters and whale watching. The kayaking with sea otters, offered by Kayak Connection, is an unforgettable experience, made even better by the expertise and enthusiasm of the staff. Whale watching from Moss Landing is, I understand, a once in a lifetime experience, unfortunately my sea sickness kept me from joining in on that excursion.

    Coastal Redwoods at Henry Cowell

  17. Coastal Redwoods at Henry Cowell

  18. A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without the sight of a redwood. At Henry Cowell you can walk amongst (and even through!) the impressive coastal redwoods that tower over 100m above you. This is a wonderful serene place to take a short walk, keeping an eye out for the park’s mascot species – the bright yellow banana slug.

    From the visitors centre, a loop track through the redwoods takes about an hour – depending on how many times you stop to take photos or climb inside a tree! Remember to always respect the fences though – a few trees are open on the track for people to touch and interact with, but others need to be protected and are fenced off. As visitors we should always try to leave the place just as wonderful as when we found it.

    Sea Lions at Pier 39

  19. Sea Lions at Pier 39

  20. Even in San Francisco, wildlife is never far away. On Pier 39 you can watch the antics of the resident Sea Lion population, as they play, fight, feed and sleep just meters away from the tourists on the pier. Seeing these creatures in the water is a real treat – only there can you appreciate just how agile these animals can be.

Guest Blog: Amazing Wildlife Encounters in Dubai

A Guest Post for Wild World Travel by Neha Singh

A postgraduate in Mass Communications, Neha loves everything about life. Traveling is extremely close to her heart and writing came to her naturally. An avid trekker & explorer, who often takes off some time from her busy life for mountaineering, she loves meeting new people & gets attached to their culture very easily. Her ambition is to explore as many places as she can in her life. She strongly believes in Gandhian principle – “simple living high thinking”.

There’s so much to love about Dubai, but what really makes me fall for this entertainment hub of the world is the fact that the city truly has something for everyone, even for the wildlife enthusiasts. Here’s a list of some of the best tourist destinations in Dubai for those who can’t do without wildlife.

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My Intrepid Experience – Borneo by Air, Land and Sea

I consider myself quite an independent traveller, and at times in the past I’ve been frustrated by tours that felt too restrictive. But when it came to visiting Borneo, I knew I wanted to be part of a group, and it was unquestionably the right decision. I’m glad I let Intrepid introduce me to this incredible island.

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Five Cool Things to do in Belgium

I recently had the pleasure of spending just over a week travelling around Belgium. During this time I managed to visit Bruges and Brussels, with a whistle stop trip to Antwerp in between. Belgium is a country of contrasts, of two languages and of strong beer, waffles and chocolate. This is my list of great things to do in Belgium. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it ought to keep you going for a little while.

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Five Excellent Things to do in The Netherlands

A couple of weeks ago I finally made the jaunt across the channel to The Netherlands, and it fast became one of my favourite countries. I began with the obvious – Amsterdam, before moving on to some slightly less touristy locations such as Rotterdam and Kinderdijk. My 8 days in The Netherlands, most of all, were made pleasant by the local people. The Dutch are amongst the friendliest and happiest people I have ever encountered. Everywhere I went I was met with smiling, helpful people. When I took the train, the staff at the station were helpful, the announcements on board where clear and informative. It was the people of the Netherlands that made sure my trip went smoothly and left me excited to make another trip there. Admittedly, there is still so much of The Netherlands to see and I most definitely intend to go back and see more of it when I can, but for now, here is my list of five excellent things to do in the Netherlands.

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Train Travel in the UK

Train travel in the UK can be confusing at best, so I’ve put together a brief guide to getting around mainland England, and in particular the best ways to use public transport in London.

Around the UK

National rail operates the trains within England, with different routes being covered by different train companies. You can check the timetable here, and buy tickets at a number of ticket providers online (e.g. National Rail, TheTrainLine), direct from the train company’s website (e.g. EastCoast, First Great Western, Southern Trains, Virgin Trains) or call center, or at ticket offices or from automated machines in stations. You can buy tickets in advance of the date you want to travel, and some companies allow you to reserve seats if you book online or over the phone.
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The Elephants of Southeast Asia

When I decided to visit Thailand, seeing Elephants was top of my wish list. But I was aware that many of the Elephant tourism opportunities were quite inhumane. I had no idea the scale of the problem. Before my trip I did a great deal of research and found one organisation that I believe genuinely has the animals’ best interests at heart – Elephant Nature Park. I had an amazing day experience there, which I cover in a separate post. I only wish I’d had longer to spend there. Here I would like to briefly explain what I found out about the Elephant industry in Southeast Asia. The Asian Elephant has suffered at the hands of humans in Southeast Asia for centuries. However, in recent years, as tourism in this region has boomed, things have taken a new twist. Countless tour agencies offer day trips and longer where you can ‘learn to be a mahout’, an ambition no welfare-conscious tourist should have. The trade of the Mahout is unbelievably cruel.

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Train Travel in Continental Europe:
A Beginner’s Guide to InterRail

InterRail provides passes to European residents for train travel in Europe. The scheme boasts major discounts on some train travel, and the freedom of hop-on, hop-off travel across the majority of European countries (see exceptions below). If you’re not a European resident, you can take a look at Eurail passes instead. You can by passes to cover a single country, or to cover the whole of Europe. However, you do need to check in advance whether or not the country and / or train you are traveling on uses reservations, as this will restrict your travel a little.

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Bucket List No.4:
Skydive in New Zealand

The idea of skydiving wasn’t one that had crossed my mind until a few years ago. Being scared of heights, I suppose it never seemed like the obvious choice for my bucket list. But I started to flirt with the idea a little after my friend told me about his experience skydiving in New Zealand and showed me the video. I liked the fact that, unlike other adrenaline sports such as bungee jumping, you didn’t actually have to jump yourself. Strapped to someone else, they’d do all the scary bit for you, you just had to sit back and try not to have a heart attack! Eventually, after speaking to a few other people about their experiences, I decided that I wanted to do a skydive, specifically in Taupo in New Zealand.

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Wild Encounter: Seeing Orangutans in Borneo

In 2014 I spent 3 amazing weeks exploring Malaysian Borneo. It’s hard to pick a highlight from that trip, I did so many incredible things – climbing Mt Kinabalu, hiking in Bako National park, seeing Proboscis Monkeys, Sun bears and Orangutans, to name just a few. But before I started planning my trip to Borneo, only one of those things was on my list – Orangutans.

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